Something Out of Place

Friday, March 17th 2017

While over towards the wetland today I spotted something that was out of place. Can you see it too – what’s odd in this picture?

To me it seemed strange that quite a scattering of spruce cones were to be found on the ground with only ash, hazel and hawthorn above – none of which produce cones. So I went to have a closer look.

The cones on the ground appeared jagged and ruffled…

…here, one (on the left) with a fallen cone (on the right) for comparison.

A little bit of research later and an explanation is achieved – I’ve found a greater-spotted woodpecker’s anvil! These birds feed on conifer seeds in the winter and will pick a cone from its tree and fly with it to a convenient crack. It will lodge the cone firmly in the crack, tip upwards, and peck and prise the scales apart to get at the seeds – this gives the cones their ruffled appearance. The woodpecker will even turn the cone around to get the seeds from all sides. Apparently it only takes around 4 minutes for a woodpecker to empty the seeds from a pine cone, during which time it pecks at the cone approximately 800 times! The woodpecker only removes a cone it has finished with from a crack when it needs the crack for a fresh cone. Armed with this knowledge I looked for a cone left in a crack and lo and behold, there it was on a branch a fair way up the ash tree!

Sadly I didn’t see the greater-spotted woodpecker with its meal, but maybe someone with more time and patience could try for a photo…?

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